The 1959 Cuban Revolution, the revolution’s subsequent strengthening, and the radical change that the process underwent beginning in 1961 marked a turning point in the history of Latin America. It implied the largest and most consistent regional challenge faced by the United States in an area where its influence had often been decisive. From then on, the Latin American Cold War intensified at every level. It was no longer about the “reactive” actions that took place among the conservative Latin American elite via the communism inspired by distant Moscow. In Cuba, the culture of the “revolution” was established, and the consequences were far from mere symbolism: Cubans also launched actions of “alternative diplomacy” to lend institutional support to the Latin American guerrilla movements. However, there is no documented study on Cuba’s role in Latin America. This is explicable in large part by the secrecy with which the Caribbean isle has made archival research in the country impossible. Although this secrecy is understandable in view of its nature as a heavily beleaguered revolution from abroad, this culture of secrecy contributed to expanding a production of journalistic and essay-based denunciation that habitually lacked rigor and interpretive frameworks. Since 2010, a certain spirit of openness has existed in the matter, an example of which is purported to be linked to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose historical repository has slowly begun to receive researchers, principally from abroad. Drawing upon the anxiety and curiosity of the international historiographic community about the images originating from Havana, an initial approach and investigation was carried out in the aforementioned tradition, with the aim of shedding light on several of the actions deployed by the Cuban Embassy in Uruguay during the initial and intense years of the Caribbean revolution.
Vicente Lombardo Toledano was born into a prosperous family in 1894 in Teziutlán, Puebla, and died in Mexico City in 1968. His life is a window into the history of the 20th century: the rise and fall of the old regime; the Mexican Revolution and the transformations that the revolution made in society; the intellectual and social reconstruction of the country under new parameters that included the rise of the labor movement to political prominence as well as the intervention of the trade unions in the construction and consolidation of the state; the dispute over the course of the nation in the tumultuous 1930s; and the configuration of the political and ideological left in Mexico. Lombardo Toledano’s life and work illustrate Mexico’s connections with the world during the Second World War and the Cold War. Lombardo Toledano belonged to the intellectual elite of men and women who considered themselves progressives, Marxists, and socialists; they believed in a bright future for humanity. He viewed himself as the conscious reflection of the unconscious movement of the masses. With unbridled energy and ideological fervor, he founded unions, parties, and newspapers. During the course of his life, he adhered to various beliefs, from Christianity to Marxism, raising dialectical materialism to the level of a theory of knowledge of absolute proportions in the same fashion that he previously did with idealism. In life, he aroused feelings of love and hate; he was the object of royal welcomes and the target of several attacks; national and international espionage agencies did not let him out of their sight. He was detained in and expelled from several countries and prevented from visiting others. Those who knew him still evoke his incendiary oratorical style, which others remember as soporific. His admirers praise him as the helmsman of Mexican and Latin American workers; others scorn the means he used to achieve his goals as opportunist. Lombardo Toledano believed that the Soviet Union had achieved a future that Mexico could not aspire to imitate. Mexico was a semifeudal and semicolonial country, hindered by imperialism in its economic development and the creation of a national bourgeoisie, without which it could not pass on to the next stage in the evolution of mankind and without which the working class and peasantry were doomed to underdevelopment. In his interpretation of history, the autonomy of the subordinate classes did not enter into the picture; rather it was the intellectual elites allied with the state who had the task of instilling class consciousness in them. No matter how prominent a personality he was in his time, today few remember the maestro Vicente Lombardo Toledano, despite the many streets and schools named after him. However, the story of his life reveals the vivid and contradictory history of the 20th century, with traces that remain in contemporary Mexico.
Thomas C. Field Jr.
The Cold War in Latin America had marked consequences for the region’s political and economic evolution. From the origins of US fears of Latin American Communism in the early 20th century to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, regional actors played central roles in the drama. Seeking to maximize economic benefit while maintaining independence with regard to foreign policy, Latin Americans employed an eclectic combination of liberal and anti-imperialist discourses, balancing frequent calls for anti-Communist hemispheric unity with periodic diplomatic entreaties to the Soviet bloc and the nonaligned Third World. Meanwhile, US Cold War policies toward the region ranged from progressive developmentalism to outright military invasions, and from psychological warfare to covert paramilitary action. Above all, the United States sought to shore up its allies and maintain the Western Hemisphere as a united front against extra-hemispheric ideologies and influence. The Cold War was a bloody, violent period for Latin America, but it was also one marked by heady idealism, courageous political action, and fresh narratives about Latin America’s role in the world, all of which continue to inform regional politics to this day.
Stephen G. Rabe
On March 13, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress, an economic assistance program to promote political democracy, economic growth, and social justice in Latin America. The United States and Latin American nations formally agreed to the alliance at a conference held in August 1961, at Punta del Este, Uruguay. U.S. delegates promised that Latin America would receive over twenty billion dollars in public and private capital from the United States and international lending authorities during the 1960s. The money would arrive in the form of grants, loans, and direct private investments. When combined with an expected eighty billion dollars in internal investment, this new money was projected to stimulate an economic growth rate of not less than 2.5 percent a year. This economic growth would facilitate significant improvements in employment, and in rates of infant mortality, life expectancy, and literacy rates. In agreeing to the alliance, Latin American leaders pledged to work for equality and social justice by promoting agrarian reform and progressive income taxes. The Kennedy administration developed this so-called Marshall Plan for Latin America because it judged the region susceptible to social revolution and communism. Fidel Castro had transformed the Cuban Revolution into a strident anti-American movement and had allied his nation with the Soviet Union. U.S. officials feared that the lower classes of Latin America, mired in poverty and injustice, might follow similarly radical leaders. Alliance programs delivered outside capital to the region, but the Alliance for Progress failed to transform Latin America. During the 1960s, Latin American economies performed poorly, usually falling below the 2.5 percent target. The region witnessed few improvements in health, education, or welfare. Latin American societies remained unfair and authoritarian. Sixteen extra-constitutional changes of government repeatedly unsettled the region. The Alliance for Progress fell short of its goals for several reasons. Latin America had formidable obstacles to change: elites resisted land reform, equitable tax systems, and social programs; new credits often brought greater indebtedness rather than growth; and the Marshall Plan experience served as a poor guide to solving the problems of a region that was far different from Western Europe. The United States also acted ambiguously, calling for democratic progress and social justice, but worried that Communists would take advantage of the instability caused by progressive change. Further, Washington provided wholehearted support only to those Latin American governments and organizations that pursued fervent anticommunist policies.